No Sympathy For Tech

So as you may have just seen, some insiders at big companies (Zuckerberg, etc.) sold off stock. That tells me the sign that things are slowing down in tech. Well, one of many signs:

  • Everyone’s all in on AI, which means that there is going to be some shakeout when it doesn’t all work out.
  • Plenty of sites that are a little unstable, like ol’ Kotaku’s pivot (ha!) to guides.
  • Whatever embarassments crypto still holds for us.
  • Venture Capital looking for quick profits (See Ed Zitron’s latest).

This tells me that at some point we’ve got a shakeout in tech. As in something bad – and something earlier than I expected. This isn’t a surprise – for the last six months I’ve seen people make predictions that boil down to some combination of:

  • A big name takes a hit.
  • A lot of not-as-big-names fail because of a mix of bad ideas, low ad rates, and so on.
  • AI doesn’t pan out like people hope.
  • General enshittification.
  • VC money moves away fast.

I’ve been trying to puzzle out what’s going to happen myself. But there’s something else I want to address – how people react. See, I think there’s going to be little sympathy, and plenty of schadenfreude when the inevitable “big fall” happens.

People regard tech different than they did ten years ago or twenty years ago. Sure there’s some interesting stuff, but it’s often pricey, questionable, or not much more beyond interesting. Beloved sites are enshittified. Nothing seems new, often because it’s not.

Gone are the days of breathless waiting that felt like there was something worth waiting for. Ads are everywhere, websites are overclogged, products might be fourth-rate knockoffs with AI generated images. New gizmos ape SF concepts while planned obsolescence takes the fun out of the new. Annoying bad features are a joke among social media users.

A friend of mine of well over two decades has noted they feel things were better back when we first met.

So when the “big fall” happens, in whatever forms (I expect a kind of cascade collapse), I think people won’t care and many will enjoy watching things burn. When they do care it’ll be more how they’re personally impacted for obvious reasons – but there’s so much less “loving tech together” these days.

That’s also going to make everything from economic recovery to new products to potential government regulations harder to predict. Watching people fall out of love with tech (and tech has done plenty to shoot itself in the foot) isn’t quite like anything I’ve seen in my life except one thing.

Watching how the reputation of smoking collapsed in my lifetime. No, it’s not exact – tech has benefits smoking’s benefits were mostly social, but still the “feel” is there.

Perhaps that’s something for me to explore later. Just writing the above was exhausting, because so much has changed over the nearly three decades I’ve been in tech. Looking back over half my lifetime feels like several.

Steven Savage

Willy’s Outsourcing Problem

So by now you’ve probably heard about the infamous Glasgow Willy Wonka ripoff event that was a dismal disaster. If somehow you remained ignorant, basically one guy generated a bunch of AI content (including a script), outsourced everything to various actors and suppliers, and it was a mess. Fyre Festival for kids, as someone put it.

As the internet united around watching and dissecting the disaster, what I found fascinating is how this happened. Not because I learned anything new, but because it seemed depressingly familiar. It was a tale of outsourcing, taken to an extreme.

Most of the news has focused on the creation of AI content by the mastermind (disastermind?) Billy Coulls. It was obviously AI generated, from creepy imagery to hilarious misspellings and nonsense words. How AI generation is just a form of automation, of basically outsourcing. It was merely the most extremely hilarious example of Coulls having anyone but him do work.

There were people hired to bring in props. People hired to act. It seems like every damn thing was outsourced and then everyone was just supposed to make it happen. Needless to say that didn’t go well, nothing happened, everything got ad libbed and there was no chocolate. Not sure how you ripoff Willy Wonka without chocolate, but there you go.

All outsourced. There was no there there, just a bunch of AI art and some guy saying “good luck” before families paid tickets for this fiasco.

This may seem extreme, but outsourcing happens all the time. If you analyze and business or product you’ll likely find some outsourcing, because sometimes you save time and money with specialists. You’ll also find outsourcing backfiring as well, with poor service, lousy computer code, or questionable media design.

If you’ve ever tried to figure out who is responsible for something and had to drill through various organizations to get an answer or a refund? You get the idea. Outsourcing isn’t an evil thing at all, but too often its used to dodge responsibility, screw employees, and not actually do anything.

At the extreme, you end up with an event that isn’t about anything, is all fake, and ultimately is a disaster. Plus it’s hard to hold someone responsible – a little more coverage and forethought and we might haven’t discovered who did the Faux-Wonka fast enough for it to hit the news cycle.

There is nothing unusual about what we saw in Glasgow, it was just incredibly obvious. Many of us have been there before. Maybe we need to ask how much of our world is outsourced, and how much of that plays into the problems we face each day.

Outsourcing isn’t bad at all – I’ve been on both sides of it. But it can be misused.

Steven Savage

A Lack Of Features Is A Feature

There’s a lot of features in technology and games. This setting, this button, these new photorealistic graphics, etc. Seems like we’re drowning in features, or at least what people tell us are features.

Now some features are obviously B.S. Not sure we need an AI bidet. Some “user enhancement” is data tracking. With a great deal of effort I’m not going to talk about such “fake features.” I’m going to talk about features not being features, and their lack would be its own benefit.

Features that would be a feature if we didn’t have the feature, if you get my drift. Which now that I look at that sentence, you may not, but I like it so reread it until it makes sense.

We’ve all dealt with apps and technology that have so many features they’re now not useful. No one uses all of them, they’re confusing, and it makes getting what we want done harder. But also each unusable feature is also time put into code, put into support, and something that can break code and screw you up.

The onslaught of features is less useful, less stable, less reliable. It makes me wonder if software would be better off more modular for people who don’t need “the self-publishing graphic features that blow up your document once a day.”

Less features or modular features as a feature.

Let’s talk super-optimized realistic graphics. Great for say, rendering movie effects. But is it needed for Call of Shootbros: Apex Duty? Does everything have to look realistic? How much more time does this add to development, debugging, and support? Yes I’m sure it drives sales and brings in planned obsolescence, but maybe things could be easier.

Resilience and stability of a system, of development, etc. would be a feature we’re missing. Seems often when fancy new games come out on PC I hear about all sorts of graphics and stability issues.

What about applications that let us stay always connected? I’m not going to diss social media, but even when we ignore the ad-driven crap and the like, the speed is a double-edged sword. The feature is useful, but one we have to use with caution.

Some features are useful, but with discretion.

All of the above features do things and have their place. It’s just they may be overwhelming, pushed, or just things we didn’t think about. At this rate not having them, or having them restrained or gated kind of feels like a feature.

Hell, maybe we need to rethink the idea of “feature” in software and tech. Or maybe I just used the word way too much in this post.

Steven Savage